Ten wacky data disasters and six tips to avoid falling prey

Left your USB stick in the wash? Dropped your laptop into the lake? Or have you oiled your hard drive to get rid of that squeaky noise?

More than 30 per cent of their assignments stem from human error rather than equipment malfunction, according to Kroll Ontrack Inc., a global provider of data recovery services and products.

Unrecoverable data that poses a minor inconvenience for one individual could be a major disaster for a small business or a much larger operation, according to John Riddell, operations manager of Ontrack Data Recovery Canada, the local subsidiary of Kroll Ontrack.

While some users want to save data for sentimental reasons, as in the case of digital wedding photos, businesses protect data such as customer and transaction information because these form the backbone of their operations, Ridell said.

Kroll Ontrack, recently released 10 of the weirdest data lost tales they came across last year:

10. All washed-up
One woman had “washed all her data away”. She reportedly left her USB memory stick in her clothes and put them through a wash cycle along with her dirty laundry.

9. Apple of his eye
A doting dad’s USB memory stick slipped out of his shirt pocket and into his baby daughter’s apple puree during feeding time.

8. Hard drive overboard
A man who thought it might be a good idea to play some computer games on a recent fishing trip lost his data when he and his laptop fell overboard.

7. Photo finish
A wedding photographer was in panic when he realized that he had overwritten digital photos of a recent nuptial. Engineers at Kroll Ontrack were able to recover the images from his camera’s flash memory in time for the newly married couple’s return from their honeymoon.
6. Acid trip
During a lab experiment, a scientist spilled some acid on an external hard drive. Engineers were able to recover data stored on the device.

5. Sparring partners
In the heat of an argument, a man throws a USB memory stick at his business partner. The devices which contained valuable business plans hit the ground and broke into several pieces. Technicians at Kroll Ontrack said they were able to repair the USB stick…and mend the friendship.

4. Sticky situation
A fire that gutted an office building spared a few CDs containing business data. Unfortunately, the heat caused the disks to stick to the inside of CD cases. Some data was still recovered.

3. The squeaky drive gets the oil
Fed up with a noisy hard drive, a British scientist decided to drill a hole into the device’s casing and pour oil in it. The squeaking stopped and so did the hard drive.

2. What’s the colour of your parachute?
In an effort to test its toughness, a video camera was rigged to a parachute and thrown from a plane. The parachute failed and the camera shattered into hundreds of pieces as it hit the ground. Ontrack engineers re-assembled the camera’s memory stick and recovered fantastic footage of the crash.

1. Ants in his drive
Upon discovering that ants invaded his external hard drive, a photographer in Thailand sprayed the interior of the device with insect repellant. The chemicals stopped the ants on their tracks and killed the hard drive as well. The ants couldn’t be resuscitated but fortunately the hard drive could –after Kroll Ontrack’s engineers worked on it.

While hard drive failure is a common cause of data loss, a user’s reaction to such an incident often exacerbates the situation, Riddell said.

“With more valuable information being stored in hard drives and memory sticks, it is very important for people to understand what not to do when they experience data loss,” he said.

For 2006, Ontrack released a similar wacky Top 10 data loss catalogue.

So what options do you have if some fateful day the storage media on which your critical business information resides is unwittingly damaged.

Here are some Ridell’s tips for potentially recovering damaged media and saving your data:

Keep wet drives moist
Drying a wet drive or computer could be the worst thing you could do says Ridell.

“It’s a common reaction, but drying your hard drive or memory stick can cause oxidation that could further damage the metallic plates and other components.”

The best thing to do is to preserve the current moist environment, pack the drive and send it to a data recovery expert.

Pick up the pieces
Never give up. Data in shattered drive might still be salvaged. Data recovery experts often reassemble broken drives to get them working again to retrieve store information.

Backup data before wiping drives clean
When a hard drive seizes, some tech savvy users resort to reformatting and re-installing the device to get it back up.

It sounds fairly basic, but a lot of “knowledgeable users” fail to verify if they have backed up their data before completely wiping the drive clean.

To avoid this error, Riddell said, users should test their backups by restoring their data to an alternate location before reformatting a drive.

Check before you swap
When a hard drive no longer spins, some users attempt to remedy the situation by replacing a non-working component with parts from a similar drive.
Newer parts may contain some specification upgrades that will prevent it from operating with the original parts. Riddell recommends that users send the seized drive to a recovery specialist.

Handle with care
Banging on a slow or seized drive will not fix the problem. This action can actually scratch the platters or damage other parts and make recovery harder.

Use OS failure programs with caution
Some users resort to operating system failure programs such as CHKDSK, Mac Disk Utility or FSCK when their computers are running slower than usual.

This could work if the problem involves OS error, but it could make things worst if the issue is a damaged drive, said Riddell.

“Running these programs could place more stress on a weakened drive and eventually cause physical damage.”

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